New Technologies for Preparedness and Response

E-mail Barbara Goode

"Advance warning, leading to community preparedness and potential evacuation, is the best way to mitigate the effects of natural disasters," says Frank Koester, vice president and director of ITT Space Systems Division Commercial and Space Science Programs. That's why his and other companies are working on new technologies for improved monitoring, prediction, and evacuation.

Hurricane and Tornado Prediction
Today, two types of meteorological satellites—Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES) and Polar Operational Environmental Satellites (POES)—measure moisture and temperature. GOES provides nearly continual monitoring of the northern hemisphere, while POES provides detailed sounding information. The National Polar-Orbiting Operational Environmental Satellites (NPOESS), scheduled to replace POES in 2011, will use ITT's Cross-track Infrared Sounder (CrIS) to track a vertical distribution of temperature, moisture, and pressure in the atmosphere, which will help in both short-term weather predictions and long-term forecasting. ITT's GOES Advanced Baseline Imager, planned for launch around 2012, will add more spectral bands, faster imaging, higher spatial resolution, better navigation, and more accurate calibration. Additionally, ITT is developing concepts for the GOES-R Global Lightning Mapper and Hyperspectral Environmental Suite (HES): The Mapper will help detect and locate lightning and improve the routing of airlines around severe storms, while HES will help predict the path and strength of violent storms such as hurricanes and tornados.

Tsunami Prediction
Last week, Tom Kevan wrote about a tsunami warning system developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). In addition to that, a Tsunami Alert system, which includes 26 information analysis centers capable of receiving and distributing tsunami advisories, has been activated in Indian Ocean countries. The centers are linked to 25 seismological stations and three deep-sea sensors.

But tsunami prediction needs more advanced technology, since the inability of current methods quickly to determine a quake's "moment magnitude" (that is, its true size—which is directly related to its tsunami-generating potential) was a primary reason warning centers so underestimated the quake that produced the 2004 Sumatra disaster. And because tsunamis travel so quickly, speed is key.

Recently, a team of scientists demonstrated that NASA-funded GPS technology can determine moment magnitude within 15 minutes—much faster than current methods. "We'll always need seismology as the first level of alert for large earthquakes, and we'll need ocean buoys to actually sense the tsunami waves," says research leader Geoffrey Blewitt. But GPS adds the ability to quickly tells how much the ocean floor has moved.

The new method, called GPS displacement, works by measuring the time radio signals from GPS satellites arrive at ground stations located within a few thousand kilometers of a quake. From these data, scientists can measure movement, derive an earthquake model, and determine moment magnitude.

Results of the researchers' study are published in Geophysical Research Letters.

Evacuation Monitoring
Once imminent danger has been determined, Trichord, Inc.'s Portable Evacuation Monitoring System (PEMS) aims to facilitate evacuation. Mobile PEMS carts equipped with wireless communication links, traffic sensors, video cameras, and solar-recharged batteries can collect and transmit traffic data during Category 1 or Category 3 hurricanes, while Trichord's data management center and real-time monitoring applications are meant for use in operations centers or in field stations. The system provides real-time lane-by-lane speed, vehicle counts, travel time, and video imagery—all accessible within 60 s via Trichord's Traffic Viewer and JamTrackerPlus. The system promises to integrate and interoperate with existing transportation and emergency management systems.

Between emergencies, PEMS can monitor traffic in highway work zones and around large-scale special events. The first major deployment began this summer in Hampton, VA, to assist during the final phases of Virginia DOT's Coliseum Central Highway Improvement Project.

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